This animation shows six SunRISE SmallSats tracing out a virtual space telescope as they detect a solar radio burst…then transmit their data…to the Deep Space Network on Earth: NASA
Constructing a 6-mile-wide (10-kilometer-wide) telescope in space may sound like science fiction. However, through the combined power of six toaster-size satellites, that’s what NASA’s SunRISE will be: a gigantic radio telescope in orbit that will help deepen scientists’ understanding of explosive space weather events. These phenomena generate hazardous particle radiation that can endanger astronauts and technology in space while also threatening communications and power grids on Earth.
Each small satellite, or SmallSat, will act as a single antenna to detect bursts of radio waves from the Sun’s superheated atmosphere, known as the corona. Each is equipped with four telescoping antenna booms that extend about 10 feet (2.5 meters) to form an “X.” They will orbit Earth from about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) away, swarming together to trace out one huge virtual radio telescope.
After NASA’s Deep Space Network receives the signals from all six SmallSats, scientists will use the technique of interferometry to create a large-aperture radio telescope as wide as the distance between the SmallSats that are farthest apart – about 6 miles (10 kilometers).
This will be the equivalent of a radio telescope – larger than any ever constructed on Earth. Functioning in space, it won’t be affected by our atmosphere’s ionosphere layer which blocks reception of long radio wavelengths.